Family Promise gains new member

George Bowers Sr.

STRASBURG — The Shenandoah County Family Promise is now just two churches away from being able to establish a church-led initiative to aid homeless families.

At a meeting Tuesday at Strasburg Christian Church, it was announced that Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Woodstock would become a host for the Shenandoah affiliate by providing volunteers to attend to families living at the Caroline Furnace Campgrounds in Fort Valley.

The Rev. George Bowers, of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock, said the interdenominational program is a great way for Christians to answer a “calling.”

“The call of Christ is to serve those who are in need,” Bowers said. “I think this is one of those ministries that crosses denominational boundaries and attracts anybody who seriously follows Christ’s word.”

The initiative to help the homeless as a Family Promise affiliate began in late 2013. Emmanuel Lutheran Church became the 11th church to join. A total of 13 churches are needed to set up the affiliate.

Family Promise is a nationwide church program in which nine to 13 churches house up to five families or 14 individuals who are homeless. On a quarterly basis, churches will host the families for one week, providing them shelter during the evening and shuttling the adults and pre-school-aged children to a day center on weekdays.

Since 1986, Family Promise has established 185 “affiliates,” which are groups of congregations serving families, in 42 states, with 6,000 congregations providing 53,000 homeless families service annually.

Bowers said while some churches have chosen to not participate, due to space and engagement in other ministries, they have provided the organization with other resources.

“The First Baptist Church in Woodstock was unable to host families at this time, but they did donate a van, which we will be using to transport the guests to and from various locations,” Bowers said.

Bowers added, “We’ve had other churches who are willing to provide volunteers or food to hosting churches. A lot of congregations have stepped up in different ways.”

The organization has also announced it has raised “just a hair less” of $14,000, Bowers said. According to Family Promise literature, an affiliate needs $90,000 revenue for its first operating year.

“Even if when we get to 13 congregations, there’s other pieces of the puzzle that need to come together, and funding is certainly one of those,” Bowers said.
“Thankfully, God’s at work there too.”

The organization is also negotiating with a property owner in Woodstock to establish a day center for adults to hunt for jobs and housing, as well as to learn skills to maintain employment and a budget, Bowers said.

“We are in the process of preparing a day center, but none of the work has begun,” Bowers said. “Some of the drawings for the necessary renovations have been done. We hope in the near future to announce where the day center will be.”

Once the program gets up and running, it will work in tandem with local agencies, such as the department of health and human resources, to get families help, Bowers said.

The Shenandoah County school system estimates there are approximately 25 children from homeless families in the 2014-2015 school year, Bowers said.

“But if you look at that number, you can almost double it, because statistics say for every child from a homeless family in school, there will be a pre-school-aged child as well,” Bowers said.

Along with helping parents get back on their feet, the program will also provide a stable environment for children, Bowers said.

“We’re going to try to mitigate risks for these youths, like drug use and crime, by providing them good role models and networking opportunities,” Bowers said. “Some of these kids don’t have much extended families, so our churches can kind of fill that role.”

He added, “Kids perform better in school and are much more likely to lead a successful, independent life when they grow up in a stable environment.”

Bowers said families would be screened to make sure they fit criteria, such as not taking drugs, a readiness to work and a drive to find housing. He said families that have members suffering from severe mental illness would be referred to an appropriate agency.

The next Family Promise meeting will be held March 10 at the Lebanon Lutheran Church at 10120 Middle Road, Lebanon Church. A prayer meeting will be held at 6:00 p.m., followed by an orientation meeting for newcomers at 6:30 p.m. and a regular meeting at 7 p.m.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com